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A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age
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A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  3,801 ratings  ·  554 reviews
From The New York Times bestselling author of THE ORGANIZED MIND and THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON MUSIC, a primer to the critical thinking that is more necessary now than ever.

We are bombarded with more information each day than our brains can process—especially in election season. It's raining bad data, half-truths, and even outright lies. New York Times bestselling author Dani
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Hardcover, 292 pages
Published September 6th 2016 by Dutton
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Taryn
The most important component of the best critical thinking that is lacking in our society today is humility. It is a simple yet profound notion: If we realize we don’t know everything, we can learn. If we think we know everything, learning is impossible.


Who knew a book about numbers could be so entertaining? Weaponized Lies is written for the average person, those of us who aren't statisticians or scientists. It introduces fundamental critical thinking skills that will assist the reader in m
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Trish
Oh, boy, I wish every one of my fellow citizens had the information shared in this book as part of their reading regime. On one hand, it would make it much harder to convince people with statistics. On the other hand, it would be much harder to convince people with statistics. Come to think of it, I think nowadays most people mistrust statistics, unless the statistics back up their own opinion.

How many times I received end-of-quarter reports from some mutual fund company showing showing growth
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Esil
Sep 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
If someone told me I would read a book about numbers and enjoy it as much as a good novel, I suspect I would snort with laughter. Not that I'm number phobic or a math hater, but reading about numbers seems like an awfully dull way to spend precious reading time. But Trish's review of A field Guide to Lies piqued my interest, so I decided to give it a try. And, in fairness, the title doesn't suggest that this is mostly a book about numbers. But it didn't make for dull reading. In a very matter of ...more
Jim
This is a book about how to spot problems with the facts you encounter, problems that may lead you to draw the wrong conclusions - critical skills that we need today since we're blasted with information in a society based on conspicuous consumption. Everyone wants our support or to sell us something & many are skilled at leveraging our inherent flaws in reasoning to this end. Reading this should be a prerequisite for posting on Facebook.

The flaws inherent in our reasoning are manifold. We're a s
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Andy
Mar 19, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
One of the most dangerous bits of confusion out there is the idea that "we live longer". I was very happy that Levitin addresses this early on (p.20), explaining that AVERAGE life expectancy is up a lot mainly because children don't die, not because there used to be no old people. 4* at that point. :-)

So why 1* for the book? Because on p.175, he makes an argument based on the statement that "people are living longer." For crying out loud, did he not read his own @#$%^& book?!

There's a bigger pop
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David
Aug 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-math
A good mix of Nate Silver's The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail - But Some Don't and Edward Tufte's The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, with original ideas thrown in as well.

It makes me sad to think that people actually need to be told some of the information in this book, like “Check the y-axis on any chart presented by a politician”, or that snopes.com and Consumer Reports are good places to check the veracity of claims. However, it seems like people need to be t
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Jamie Smith
Mar 01, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: math
This book was not on my reading list, but I happened to see it while browsing my library’s ebook shelves and decided to take a chance on it. It was better than I anticipated, a good introduction to critical thinking skills. It starts with a section called Evaluating Numbers and moves from the very basics, such as statistical mean-median-mode to a discussion of chart shenanigans like hiding data and playing with multiple axes. It then abstracts the discussion from specifics to general observation ...more
David
Oct 26, 2016 rated it liked it
You could argue reading this is timely in the lead up to the 2016 elections but it speaks to a nuance that is completely lacking in this particular campaign.

It’s more about the skewing of stats, presenting information that favours your viewpoint, logical fallacies. And it ties it into Fox News polls, autism claims, 9/11 truthers, unknown unknowns and more.

And while the sly authorial voice does occasionally peek out it reads like a first year textbook. There’s the missed potential to have more
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Christy
Dec 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Finished this just in time to order it for fall! I'll swap it for Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking, a remarkable book for its small size and clear, non-jargon prose, but it's just not cutting it anymore in the Trump era. (I'll still use Huff's classic How to Lie with Statistics.) ...more
Amirography
Jun 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A wonderfully well written book, on how to recognize fallacies and biased perspectives and to immune ourselves from being stuck with false beliefs.
Tyera
Sep 19, 2016 rated it it was ok
Far more about statistics and scientific studies than expected, and not really written for those of us who do understand the scientific method and statistics.
In addition, Levitin switches too quickly between examples to let each one have its proper weight, almost like he's flipping among news sources, assuming the reader is flipping along as well. Some in-text sourcing might help resolve this issue... now that I think about it, I think Levitin could benefit from a good newswriting class himself.
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Camelia Rose
Sep 20, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, sociology
A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age is a thoroughly researched and easy to understand book on critical thinking. Highly recommended for readers 14+.

The book is divided into three parts:
Part One: Evaluating Numbers
Part Two: Evaluating Words
Part Three: Evaluating the World

Part One is the heaviest: how numbers and graphs can fool you; how statistics work; how data is collected/reported and why it matters; what probabilities really mean and how to calculate them. Each top
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Bobi
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
This book joins a growing list of 'skeptic' sites/books/authors and as such is deeply skewed to orthodox anti-conspiratorial explanations. Being an academic, the author is beholden to the system that puts bread on his table. He skips from topic to topic too quickly and doesn't delve into enough details to put conspiracy theories to bed - he simply dismisses them with some form of simplistic analysis. A good example would be his too-brief treatment of 911 is which he places great weight on so-cal ...more
Ilaria
Mar 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Daniel Levitin's Field guide presents a guide for putting in practice critical thinking, ranging from analyzing how numbers are presented in graphs, to applying Bayesian probabilities to court cases and life's decision, to recognizing logical fallacies and much more. The style is simple and the tone is sometimes colloquial. From what I understood by looking at previous reviews, some people found this book eye-opening, others felt that we should already know how to go about misinformation and cou ...more
Praxedes
Jul 12, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the perfect book for the fake news era: a step by step guide to identifying and avoiding the most common methods of deceit utilized in mass media. Levitin breaks it down into sections examining dubious statistics, deceitful uses of language, and case studies.

As a librarian, my job is to connect people with relevant and reliable information. This book gives readers a checklist of things to look for before believing (or worse, repeating) bad data. Most definitely a worthwhile read.
Erik
Dec 31, 2016 rated it it was ok
Ultimately falls into an awkward gap, being conceptionally fairly basic...very familiar to anyone who has taken logic and stats classes. On the other, my initial hope that it would be full of amusing uses of bad statistics and logic to at least entertain if not educating wasn't fully gratified either. ...more
Sarah
Jan 22, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobook, 2021
I’ve always heard that numbers don’t lie. Well, they do! Can we believe experts? Can we ever trust the media? Levitin shows how statistics on issues like crime rates or house prices are tweaked to distort and manipulate.
There are chapters on probabilities and on correlation vs causation. He even goes into illusionists like David Blaine and why we can’t always believe what we see. An enlightening and entertaining read that will make me a more critical thinker.
Zain Hashmy
Apr 04, 2018 rated it liked it
This is one of those rare books that I feel does not deserve a proper review. It sits squarely in the area of books that are not good enough to be praised, but not bad enough to be ridiculed either.
The title was what drew me to the book, because the sheer amount of content that I consume in an average day is higher than average, making the chances that I am exposed to false claims also higher than most people. To separate the wheat from the chaff, quickly and efficiently and to use fancy terms t
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Renee Godding
3.5/5 stars

In this day and age, we are constantly bombarded with information: some of it correct, some of it partially correct, confusing or misleading, and some of it blatantly wrong.
This book is a good introduction into critical reading and judging the information presented to you. It’s not the most in-depth book, and I have to say that I didn’t really learn too much from it, yet it’s a wonderful concise summary of the most important things to consider.
Looking critically at the world around u
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Bernard O'Leary
Mar 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
You would think that most of the information in this book – verifying sources, avoiding fallacious logic, basic statistics and so on – would be such common knowledge as for this book to be totally superfluous. Like, surely people know all this stuff, right?



Fair point.

It's an articulate explainer of quite basic rationalism, although I have a feeling that the people who need to read it probably won't.
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Will Ansbacher
Oct 22, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
A compact and solidly-written guide for those who aren’t too familiar with statistics, probability and logic, but despite the catchy title that appears to promise a lot, Calling Bullshit was stylistically better and more engaging.

Although Levitin doesn’t talk down to his audience, he seems to have seriously underestimated the range of abilities in the group he’s writing for. So, someone who has difficulties with the concept of averages and offset graph axes is unlikely to be able to follow muc
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Ana
While I wish the tone were less dry and textbooklike, the information is very, very useful.
Scott
Mar 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Statistically, 1 out of every 1 me knows less about Bayesian analysis than I think I do.
Dave
Nov 21, 2018 rated it liked it
As a book, it's good: occasionally funny, excellent examples, scrupulously fair (the only mention of Trump is followed by a similar example from Clinton)--maybe overscrupulous--and a good translation of complex logical arguments into simple language, though the Bayesian discussions get a little dense toward the end.

As a skill set, it is absolutely essential, especially nowadays. When I went to library school, I was dumbfounded that people don't recognize when information is unreliably sourced,
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Nancy Mills
Sep 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Great guide for recognizing spin. Spotlights the various ways data can be presented and numbers manipulated to lead you to conclusions presenters want you to believe. I listened to the audiobook and I probably should have read the paper version, as I imagine there are graphs and other helpful illustrations.
Adrian Hoad-Reddick
Oct 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This insightful book ought to be a multi discipline high school course that all students should take. It unravels mathematical mistruths and weasel words, and includes heaps of web literacy, logic and other ways to encourage mindful discrimination of truths in the face of the infoglut deluge.
Buck
Aug 27, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, nonfiction
Not really what I was expecting; this is essentially a logic textbook for those of us not attending school. The ones who really need to read this, the anti-science, conspiracy theory, alternate-facts folks, wont.
Morgan Taylor
Feb 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Important book for today. The topic is my husbands soapbox and it helps us non-scientists wrap our minds around what information can be trusted. Basically it made me not trust anything.
Daniel Kenefick
Dec 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Good not great - it mostly boil down to "be skeptical," "Fact check your information" and "Don't believe every number you read."If that sounds redundant, then so was the book.

Mostly, it seems like anyone who has taken a statistics class wouldn't need this book, and anyone who had never taken a statistics class wouldn't understand or would never pick up this book.

If you have taken a stats class, I highly recommend Statistics Done Wrong: The Woefully Complete Guide. It has more of a focus on sc
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Minal
Feb 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
Numbers and statistics are incredibly easy to manipulate. They're not the source of truth we often believe they are, and I would have loved to read something that truly showcased the many times we've been misled by poorly conducted surveys and duplicitous graphs. Unfortunately, this book was not that. It's incredibly dry and none of the examples are particularly engaging. If you've taken a college statistics class, there's nothing new here. If not, I can't imagine this would be an enjoyable read ...more
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Daniel J. Levitin runs the Laboratory for Musical Perception, Cognition and Expertise at McGill University, where he holds the Bell Chair in the Psychology of Electronic Communication. Before becoming a neuroscientist, he worked as a session musician, sound engineer and record producer. He has written extensively both in scientific journals and music trade magazines such as Grammy and Billboard.

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“Be careful of averages and how they’re applied. One way that they can fool you is if the average combines samples from disparate populations. This can lead to absurd observations such as:
"On average, humans have one testicle.”
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“A big part of the problem here is that the human brain often makes up its mind based on emotional considerations, and then seeks to justify them. And the brain is a very powerful self-justifying machine.” 5 likes
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